Bedfordshire

County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 2,000

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
24 Apr. 1754John Fitzpatrick, 1st Earl of Upper Ossory 
 Thomas Alston 
13 Dec. 1758Henry Osborn vice Upper Ossory, deceased 
1 Apr. 1761Francis Russell, Mq. of Tavistock 
 Robert Ongley 
7 Apr. 1767John Fitzpatrick, 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory, vice Tavistock, deceased 
28 Mar. 1768John Fitzpatrick, Earl of Upper Ossory 
 Robert Ongley 
21 Oct. 1774John Fitzpatrick, Earl of Upper Ossory1078
 Robert Ongley986
 Hon. Thomas Hampden715
27 Sept. 1780John Fitzpatrick, Earl of Upper Ossory 
 Hon. St. Andrew St. John 
19 Apr. 1784John Fitzpatrick, Earl of Upper Ossory1050
 Hon. St. Andrew St. John974
 Robert Ongley, 1st Baron Ongley973
 Ongley vice St. John, on petition, 1 July 1784 
 St. John vice Ongley, on petition, 19 May 1785 

Main Article

One of the two county seats was regularly conceded to the Duke of Bedford, and usually filled by one of his family. Even in filling the other seat the Bedford influence was exerted; discussing the forthcoming general election, Philip Yorke wrote on 5 Aug. 1753 that he saw no other choice that could ‘be made in order to keep up the Whig interest’ than Thomas Alston, and ‘the Duke of Bedford is very willing to consent’. Ossory and Alston were returned unopposed. When Ossory died, 23 Sept. 1758, Henry Osborn was returned on the Bedford interest as a stop-gap till Lord Tavistock was of age. In 1761 Tavistock was returned unopposed together with Robert Ongley, a mild Tory, whom Bedford had accepted in 1754 for the borough of Bedford on a compromise with the Tories. In July 1766 Sir George Osborn unsuccessfully applied for the Duke’s interest at the next general election, and advertised his candidature in the newspapers. ‘I am sure his fortune cannot support opposition to Ongley’, wrote his grandmother, Sarah Osborn. He finally ruined his chances by canvassing after Tavistock’s tragic death in March 1767. Bedford’s nephew John, 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory, was returned unopposed at the by-election, and again, together with Ongley, in 1768.1

In 1774, the 5th Duke of Bedford being a minor, John Robinson noted against Bedfordshire: ‘speak to the Duchess of Bedford, Lord Gower, and Mr. Rigby thereon, and see Lord Ossory and Mr. Ongley.’ Ossory and Ongley stood as Government supporters, Thomas Hampden as an Opposition candidate. George Osborn, though himself a Government supporter, canvassed for him—obviously on an anti-Bedford basis. ‘Mr. Hampden’s friends are uncommonly industrious in their solicitations’, wrote George Macartney to Lord Bute, who supported Ossory and Ongley. Ossory greatly exerted himself on Ongley’s behalf. On 23 Oct., two days after the election, George Byng wrote to the Duke of Portland:

I transmit to you [Lord] Torrington’s account of our defeat, which considering the variety of misfortunes and mismanagement proves [Hampden’s] interest to be a very strong one indeed, and it is creditable to him to have faced the united houses of Woburn, Wrest [Hardwicke] and Luton [Bute], and which I hope and trust in some future day may be crushed.

By 1780 Ossory was in opposition, supported the Bedfordshire petition for economical reform; and at the county meeting, 13 Sept., criticized Ongley’s line in the House; and ‘concluded with desiring the sense of the county whether he should join Mr. St. John’. On the 15th the Duchess of Bedford coupled the names of Ossory and St. John in a toast. On the 23rd, four days before the election, Ongley wrote to Lord Hardwicke, who supported him, that having canvassed the greater part of the county, he had decided not to stand the poll. Ossory and St. John were returned unopposed.2

In 1784 Ossory and St. John stood as Foxites, Ongley as a Pittite. He was supported by Hardwicke, Bute, Osborn, and Whitbread, and at the county meeting on 2 Apr. begged ‘the freeholders to give him single votes to enable [him] to conquer the party formed against him’; and in fact most of his voters were plumpers. ‘A single vote may turn the election’, he wrote to Hardwicke, 11 Apr.; and on the 19th he was defeated by St. John by one vote. Ongley petitioned, alleging a mistake in the return; and on 1 July was seated by order of the House. But next St. John petitioned, charging Ongley with bribery and the sheriff with partiality; after a long scrutiny, which struck off votes from both sides, the corrected poll gave St. John 829 against Ongley’s 825; and St. John was re-seated.3

Ongley’s election expenses came to upwards of £6,000; and a subscription list was opened by his chief supporters towards his petition. On the other side, Robert Palmer, Bedford’s estate agent, after having advanced, £3,000 to Ossory, was asked to make it up to £4,000, which apparently was done; and in January 1785 Ossory applied for a further £3,000; and received £1,000. A meeting of supporters of Ossory and St. John was called to raise a subscription toward the expenses of their petition.